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Al Part 2- Poetry

Margaret Atwood

IOC

Name

Block HL/SL
Poem Commentary

1) Context: (difficult or impossible for Paper 1)


-historical
-authorial

2) Structure: Let the poem assist you in your Presentation; i.e. by stanza or by
idea.
-type of poem and effect
-# of lines and stanzas
-rhyme scheme, rhythm and meter and effect
-punctuation (possibly) and effect
-POV: 1st, 2, 3rd person point of view. Differentiate between
narrator/speaker and persona. Discuss the POV's effect

3) State Theme and List the Literary Features employed.

4) Title: What imagery does the title evoke? How does it hint at the poem's
meaning?

5) Line by line, stanza by stanza, idea by idea.


-Literary Features
1) Diction: tone, style, word order, word choice. Author's tone is
portrayed through his/her diction.
2) Symbol/Symbolic/Symbolism
3) Imagery- Sensory language-* 5 senses—> Mental picture-*
Evokes a response in the Reader/Audience-> Emotional or Memory
3) Metaphor
4) Simile
5) Irony- 3 types (appearance vs. reality)
6) Personification
7) Onomatopoeia
8) Mood/Tone of the poem
9) Figurative and Literal meanings
10) Enjambment
10) Repetition
11) Alliteration
12) Setting, if applicable
13) Conflict and Resolution of Persona, if applicable
14) THEME

-Pertinent Quotations incorporated smoothly into your commentary.

6) Conclusion and Personal ResponseA/oice


-Thoughtful concluding ideas linking the major literary features to Theme.
-Express your interaction with the poem.

-Effects: -How supports the Theme.


-What response and how the response is evoked in the reader.
•Use active, not passive Voice.
-Double-check grammar (s/v agreement) and spelling (especially author and title).
SL Assessment Criteria
CriterionA: Knowledge and Achievement level 0 Achievement level 1 Achievement level 2 Achievement level 3 Achievement level 4 Achievement level 5
understanding of extractorwork(s) Some knowledge of the extract Adequate knowledge of the Good knowledge of the extract Excellent knowledge of the
• How wel does the candidate know and
The candidate has not reached level 1 Littleknowledge of the extract
or work(s) orwork(s) extract or work(s) orwork(s) extract or work(s)
understandthe content of the extractor • Good knowledgeand • Thorough knowledge and
• Littteknowtedge orunderstanding • Some knowledge butsuperficial • Adequate knowledgeand
work(s)? understanding of the content understanding of thecontent of understanding of the contentof understanding of the contentof
of the content of the extract or
* Howwelldoes the candidate situate work(s) of the extractorwork(s) theextract orwork(s) the extractorwork(s) the extractorwork(s)
the extract orwork(s) within the • Little knowledge of the • Some knowledge of the • Adequateknowledge of the • Good knowledgeof the • Precise knowledge of the
context ofthelarger workfrom which appropriate context ofthe appropriate context oftheextract appropriate context oftheextract appropriate context oftheextract appropriate contextofthe extract
ithas beentakenorthe bodyofworks extractorwork(s),where orwork(s), whererelevant orwork®, where relevant orwork(s), whererelevant orwork(s), whererelevant
towhich itbelongs, where relevant? relevant
o
Criterion B:Interpretation and Achievement level 0 Achievement level 1-2 Achievement level 3-4 Achievement level 5-6 Achievement level 7-8 Achievement level 9-10
<3
personalresponse Some interpretation of the extract Adequateinterpretation of the Goodinterpretation of the extract Excellent interpretation of the
The candktete has not reached level 1 Little interpretation ofthe extract
• HowvaMisthe candidate's interpretation orwork(s) extract or work(s) orwork(s) extractor work(s)
or work(s)
of theextract orwork(s)? • Some interpretation of the • Adequate interpretation of the • A generally valid interpretation • A validinterpretation of the
• Little interpretation of the
• How weDhas the candidate identified thought andfeeling expressed of the thought and feeling thoughtand feeling expressedin
thought andfeeling expressed thought andfeeling expressed
and analysed theeffects ofliterary inthe extractorwork(s) intheextract orwork(s) intheextract orwork(s) including expressedinthe extract or the extractorwork(s), including
features inthe extractorwork(s), • Some awarenessof the literary sometimes valid persona) work(s), including some degree a consideredcritical response,
• Response consists mainly of
such as diction, imagery,tone, features ofthe extract orwork(s) observations, whereappropriate of a critical personal response, where appropriate
narration and/or repetition of
structure, styleandtechnique? • The responseis supported by • Adequateawarenessbutlittle where appropriate • Clearawareness andanalysisof
content
• To what extent does the candidate's analysis of the effectsofthe • Clear awareness and some the effects of the literary
• Littleor no awareness of the some references to the extract
response showcritical thinking and orwork(s) literary features of the extract analysis of the effectsof the featuresof the extractorwork(s)
literary features of the extract
originality? orwork(s) literary featuresof the extract • The response is wellsupported
orwork(s)
• How precise andrelevant arethe • The response is supportedby orwork(s) by accurateand relevant
candidate's references to the extract generally relevant references • The response is supportedby references totheextract orwork(s)
orwork(s)? to the extractorwork(s) relevant references to the
extractorwork(s)

Criterion C: Presentation The candtfate has not reached level 1 Little sense of a focused and Some sense of a focused and A generallyfocused and A focused and developed A clearlyfocused, well-developed
• How structured is the candidate's developed response developed response developed response response and persuasive response
response? • Little evidence of a structure to • Some evidence of a structure • Adequate structure to the • Clearand logical structure to • Purposeful and effective
• Howeffectiveand convincing is the the response to the response response the response structure to the response
candidate's presentation? • Little attemptto presentthe • Some attemptto presentthe • The response is generally • Theresponse isfocused and • The response is focused,
• How appropriately does the response with coherence and response with coherence focused and presentedin a presented inadear, coherent, coherentand presented in a
candidate integrate supporting focus although itisnotalways focused coherent and effective manner effective andconvincing manner very effectiveand persuasive
referencesto the extractor work(s)? • Theresponse is supported by • Supporting references tothe • Supporting references to the • Supporting references to the manner

fewreferences to the work(s) or work(s) orextract, where work(s) orextract, where work(s) orextract, where • Supporting references to the
extract relevant, arenotappropriately relevant, are sometimes relevant,are appropriately work(s) orextract arewell
integrated into thebodyofthe appropriately integrated into integrated intothe bodyof the integrated intothe body of the
response the bodyof the response response response

Criterion D: Use of language Achievement level 0 Achievement level 1 Achievement level 2 Achievement level 3 Achievement leveU Achievement level 5
• Howaccurate, clearand preciseis The language is onlysometimes The languageis generally clear The language is clear, varied The language is clear,varied,
The candidatehas not reached level 1 The languageis rarelyclear or
thelanguage usedbythecandidate? clear and coherent and coherent and precise precise and concise.
coherent
• How appropriate is thecandidate's • The speechis notreadily • Some degreeof clarity and • Clear speech,appropriate to • Clear, varied and precise • Clear, varied, precise and
choice ofregister and styleforthe comprehensible coherenceinthe speech the occasion speech,appropriate tothe concise speech, appropriate to
occasion? (Register refers, inthis • Many lapses ingrammar and • Some degreeof accuracy in • Onlya fewsignificant lapsesin occasion the occasion
context,to the candidate's sensitivity expression grammar andexpression grammar andexpression • No significant lapsesin • Nosignificant lapsesingrammar
to elementssuch as vocabulary, • Vocabulary is rarely accurate • Vocabulary is sometimes • Attempts to use a register grammar and expression and expression
tone, sentence structureand idiom or appropriate appropriate for the discussion activity • Suitable choiceof register and • An effectivechoiceof register
appropriate tothe task.)Literary of literature style and style
termsaretakeninthe widest possible • Some literary terms used • Preciseuse of widevocabulary
sense (e.g. novel, play, poem, appropriately andvaried grammatical structures
• Literary termsusedappropriately
persona, character, narrator).
HL Assessment Criteria
CriterionA: Knowledge and Achievement level 0 Achievement level 1 Achievement level 2 Achievement level 3 Achievement level 4 Achievement level 5
understandingof extract or work(s) Some knowledge of the extract Adequate understandingof the Good understanding of the Excellent understanding of the
The candkJatehas not reached level 1 Littleknowledge of the extract
• How well does the candidate know orwork(s) extract or work(s) extract or work(s) extract or work(s)
or work(s)
and understand the content of the • Utflekrcwledgecfunderstanding • Some knowtedge butsuperficial • Adequateknowledge and • Good knowledgeand • Thorough knowledgeand
extractorwork(s)? of the content of the extract or understanding of the content of understanding of the contentof understandingof the content understanding of the contentof
• How well does the candidate situate the extractorwork(s) the extractor work(s) of the extractorwork(s) the extractor work(s)
work(s)
the extract orwork(s) within the • Little knowledge ofthe • Some knowledge of the • Adequateknowledge of the • Goodknowledge of the • Precise knowledge ofthe
context ofthelarger workfrom appropriate contextofthe appropriate contextof the appropriate context oftheextract appropriate context oftheextract appropriate context of the extract
whichithas been taken or the body extractorwork(s), where extractorwork(s), where orwork(s), where relevant orwork(s), whererelevant orwork(s),where relevant
of works towhich it belongs, where relevant relevant
relevant?

Criterion B:Interpretation and Achievement level 0 Achievement level 1-2 Achievement level 3-4 Achievement level 5-6 Achievement level 7-8 Achievement level 9-10
personalresponse Some interpretation of the Adequate interpretation of the Good interpretation of the Excellentinterpretationof the
The candidatehas not reachedlevel 1 Littleinterpretationof the
• How vafxJis the candidate's extract or work(s) extract or work(s) extract or work(s)
extract orwork(s) extract or work(s)
interpretation oftheextract orwork(s)? • Little interpretation of(he • Some interpretation of the • A generally valid andadequate • A validand generally detailed • A convincing anddetailed
• How well has the candidate interpretation ofthethought and interpretation of the thought interpretation of the thoughtand
thought and feeling expressed thoughtand feeling expressed
identified andanalysed the effects inthe extractor work(s) in the extractorwork(s) feeling expressed intheextract and feeling expressed inthe feeling expressed in the extract
of literary features inthe extract or • Response consists mainly of including some elementsof a or work(s)including some extractorwork(s) including a orwork(s) including a fully
work(s), suchas diction, imagery, narration and/orrepetition of relevantpersonal response, degreeof a critical personal consideredcritical response, consideredand independent
tone, structure, styleandtechnique? content where appropriate response,whereappropriate where appropriate critical response, whereappropriate
• To what extent does the • Some awareness of the literary • Adequate awareness and • Excellent awareness and critical
• Little awareness of the literary • Good awareness and detailed
candidate's responseshow critical features oftheextract orwork(s) features oftheextract orwork(s) some analysis of the effectsof analysis of the effectsof the analysis of the effects of the
thinking andoriginality? • The response is supportedby the literary features of the literary featuresof the extract literary featuresof the extractor
• How precise andrelevant arethe some references to the extract extractorwork(s) orwork(s) work(s)
candidate's references to the orwork(s) • The responseis generally • The response is supportedby • The responseis fully supported
extractorwork(s)? supported byrelevant references relevant references to the extract by precisereferences to the
to the extractorwork(s) orwork(s) extractorwork(s)

Criterion C: Presentation The candBate has not reached level 1 Little sense of a focused and Some sense of a focused and A generally focused and A focused and developed A clearlyfocused, well-developed
• How structured is the candidate's developed response developed response developed response response and persuasive response
response? • Little evidence of a structure to • Some evidence of a structure • Adequate structure to the • Clear and logical structureto • Purposeful andeffectivestructure
• Howeffectiveand convincingis the the response to the response response the response to the response
candidate's presentation? • Little attempt to present the • Some attemptto presentthe • The responseis generally • The response is focused and • The response is focused, coherent
• How appropriately does the responsewithcoherence and responsewithcoherence focused and presentedina presented ina dear,coherent, and presented ina veryeffective
candidate integrate supporting focus although itisnotalways focused coherent and effective manner effective andconvincing manner and persuasive manner
references tothe extract orwork(s)? • The response is supported by • Supporting references tothe • Supporting references to the • Supporting references tothe • Supporting references tothe
© fewreferences to the work(s) work(s)or extract, where work(s) or extract, where work(s) or extract, where work(s) orextract arewell
or extract relevant,arenot appropriately relevant, are sometimes relevant, are appropriately integrated intothe body of the
integrated intothe bodyof the appropriately integrated into integrated intothe bodyofthe response
response the bodyof the response response

Criterion D: Use of language Achievement level 0 Achievement level 1 Achievement level 2 Achievement level 3 Achievement level 4 Achievement level 5
• Howaccurate, clearand preciseis The languageis rarely clearor The language is onlysometimes The language is generally clear The language is clear,varied The language is clear,varied,
The candidate has not reached level 1
thelanguage usedbythecandidate? coherent clear and coherent and coherent and precise precise and concise
• How appropriate is the candidate's • The speech is notreadily • Some degree of clarity and • Clear speech, appropriate to • Clear, varied andprecise speech, • Gear,varied, precise andconcise
choice of register and style for the comprehensible coherence in the speech the occasion appropriate totheoccasion speech, appropriate to the
occasion? (Register refers, inthis • Many lapsesingrammar and • Some degreeof accuracy in • Only a fewsignificant lapses in • Nosignificant lapsesingrammar occasion
context,to the candidate's expression grammar andexpression grammar andexpression and expression • Nosignificant lapsesingrammar
sensitivity toelementssuch as the • Vocabulary is rarely accurate • Vocabulary is sometimes • Attemptsto use a register • Uses a register and style and expression
vocabulary, tone,sentence structure or appropriate appropriate for the discussion appropriate to theoralactivity appropriate to the oralactivity • Aneffective choiceof register
and idiom appropriate to the task.) of literature • Some literary terms used and style
Literary terms aretakeninthewidest appropriately • Preciseuse of wide vocabulary
possible sense, for example, novel, andvaried grammatical structures
play, poem, persona, character, • Literary terms usedappropriately
g narrator.
Margaret Atwood poems for Al Y2 Part 2- Detailed Study. Assessment: IOC 2011-2012
1) "Spelling"
2) "Variations on the word Sleep"
3) "Variations on the word Love"
4) "Postcard"
5) "A Sad Child"
6) "A Women's Issue"
7) "Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing"
8) "Oh"
9) "They Eat Out"
10) "February"
11) "Men At Sea"
12) "The Female Body- pt. 5"
13) "Cell"
14) "Siren Song"
Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is a widely recognized literary figure, especially known for her themes of
feminism. Her novels, including Alias Grace and The Handmaid's Tale are widely known for
their feminist subject matter, and one finds the same powerful themes within her poetry. Judy
Klemesrud, in her article for The New York Times, once made the wise acknowledgement that
"People follow her on the streets and in stores, seeking autographs and wanting to discuss the
characters in her novels- most of whom are intelligent, self-absorbed modern women searching
for identity. These women also suffer greatly, and as a result, some Canadian critics have dubbed
her 'the high priestess of angst'"(March 28, 1982). Indeed, Margaret Atwood has a talent for the
conscience feministic perspective, and the tone of much of her work seems to indicate her sense
of political responsibility. Her poem "Spelling," for example, is a testament to the power of
words and it depicts the victimization of powerlessness of women without language. Atwood
describes her daughter on the floor, learning how to spell for the first time, and then leads the
reader through a history of persecuted, helpless women. For instance, Atwood depicts "the
woman caught in the war/ & in labour, her thighs tied/ together by the enemy/ so she could not
give birth"(803). Such disturbing portrayals of women have earned Atwood the reputation as a
daring feminist. Yet it is important to recognize that her poetry is not just about feminist themes,
it is also an exploration into the depths of human consciousness and loneliness. This
consciousness, paired with her curiosities about the power of language, is seen in many of her
poetic themes. Atwood focuses on different literary and artistic genres in her poetry, ranging
from postcards to photographs to magazine depictions of love, in order to explore human
connections. Although much of her work may seem fearlessly feministic, in the sense that it
brings explores female condition without reserve or embarrassment, Atwood's poetry probes into
a genderless consciousness to explore feelings of human connectedness and painful separations.

The first poem that will be examined in this paper is "Variations on the Word Sleep." The
narrator of the poem immediately addresses their conscience need to connect with the other
person, and they also recognize the hopelessness of this goal: "I would like to watch you
sleeping, / which may not happen". The opening to the poem, as we see here, could be
considered typical of Atwood's writing in the sense that one person longs to bond with another,
and recognizes the difficulty. It is this type of vulnerability that we have come to expect in
Margaret Atwood's writings, because as with many feminist writings, we are aware of the power
struggle between men and women, and even between women. But this poem refrains from
identifying sexes; it only discusses a deeply internal need of one person for another, who is on a
journey through he dark maze of their consciousness.

The first stanza evolves from a simple plea from the genderless speaker to watch their lover
sleep, to a deeper, spiritual need. Atwood chooses to remain ambiguous in this respect, which
helps a wider audience identify with the work. The poem also has merit because within seven
short, simplistic lines we glide from a gentle longing to a love complex and intense, with two
minds merging together in a dream: "I would like to watch you, / sleeping. I would like to sleep/
with you, to enter/ your sleep as its smooth dark wave/ slides over my head." The action of the
poem continues to evolve as Atwood carries the reader through what appears to be a lover's
dream or fantasy. The narrator at first wishes only to watch their lover sleep, then they desire to
enter the same sleep with them, then they envision themselves descending through the layers of
consciousness. As the reader follows along with the admiring narrator and his or her companion,
they become increasingly aware of the narrator's need for transcendence. Atwood uses words
that help guide us along the action, such as "watch," "enter," "over," "descend," "follow," and
"become." All of these words are effective in making the reader feel as if they too are stumbling
along side of the narrator, desperately trying to enter the depths of their lover.

Moreover, the narrator is so anxious and passionate, that they are willing to follow their lover
towards their worst fear in order to protect them "from the grief at the center." This is especially
interesting in the aspect of feminism because Atwood's female characters, especially in his
novels, are usually exemplary of achievement and empowerment. If one is to assume the narrator
in this poem is female, than Atwood is describing a woman chasing her man in a desperate
attemptto become his center, and even to "be the air/ that inhabits you for a moment/ only. I
would like to be that unnoticed/ that necessary." The word "unnoticed" here could be seen in a
couple different lights, as could the entire theme of the poem. On one hand, the narrator is
reducing him or herself to being virtually invisible, by becoming the air of their lover. Given
Atwood's aptitude for dismantling the power structures between males and females in her
novels, this type of clinging and desperation seems out of character with her writing. Yet on the
other hand, she has abstained from identifying sexes, and the poetry itself is painfully honest and
romantic in its portrayal of sacrifice. The narrator is recognizing that the object of their affection,
whether they be male or female, has a consciousness worth exploring, and they are willing to
carry this person way from darkness.

The other reason that this poem should be valued is because of Atwood's use of the elements.
The imagery of the poem moves from water ("smooth dark wave") to earth (forest, cave) to
wateragain("become the boat that wouldrow you") to fire ("a flame in two cupped hands") then
finally, air ("I would like to be the air that inhabits you"). The poem "Variations of the Word
Sleep" is an excellent example of Atwood's talent for revealing feelings of separations and also
for showing the romance in giving up ones' own identity for the sake of love. This theme is not
typical to what the public would consider ruthlessly feminist, but Atwood's writings redefine the
realms of what women desire and deserve in love.

Thenext poem that this paper will discuss is the poem "Variations on the Word Love." This
poem is similar to "Variations on the Word Sleep" in the sense that the idea of love evolves from
a simplistic, shallowrelationship to realm of love that explores new meanings of human
connection and consciousness. The first stanza even seems to be a mockery of the idea of love,
because Atwood's words ring of cynicism: "This is a word we use to plug/ holes with. It's the
right size for those warm/ blanks in speech, for those red heart/ shaped vacancies on the page that
look nothing/ like real hearts. Add lace/ and you can sell/ it." (802). This poem, at least initially,
seems to fit Atwood's reputation as a staunch "feminist" better than the latter poem, in the sense
of "feminism" as a movement which rejects love and men and all things traditional. Atwood's
first few lines reduce the word "love" to an object of convenience. Her words are highly
discouraging, as "love" is merely something sold for commercial value ("add lace on it...") and
cutesy magazine advertisements "There are whole/ magazines with not much in them/ but the
word love, you can/ rub it all over your body and you/ can cook with it too"(802). Again, here
we see a bit more of the feminist theme we've come to expect from Margaret Atwood. She
expertly mocks the type of women's literature that provides its reader's with mushy romance,
heavy perfumes, and cooking recipes. Yet, as before, it is important to interpret Atwood's
intentions correctly.

Assuming "Variations on the Word Sleep" was written in a sincere tone, we know that love, for
Atwood, transcends the boundaries of commercialism and even conventional devotion. Atwood
is not saying that love is an over-rated, half-imagined concept created by Hallmark or Cosmo
that should be rejected by intelligent females. She is using her poetry to redefine the boundaries
of love. Her approach in this poem is from a post-modernist point of view, because she
recognizes that words can be powerful, yet often inept at holding meaning. Her second stanza
becomes more personal, showing the gap between what the shrunken word "love" and what it
can be, in reality, between soul mates: "Then there's the two/ of us. This word/ is far too short
for us, it has only/ four letters, too sparse/ to fill those deep bare/ vacuums between the stars/ that
press on us with their deafhess"(802). So again, Atwood has effectively evolved the concept of
love. And she has let her feminist colors glimmer in her portrayal of modern women's
magazines, while showing that connections between two people are intensive and indefinable.
This poem is also intriguing because she manages to come to the same feelings of helplessness
towards the end of the poem that we saw glimpses of in "Variations on the Word Sleep."

Atwood described the word love as being "single vowel in this metallic/ silence, a mouth that
says/ O again and again in wonder/ and pain, a breath, a finger/ grip on a cliffside"(802). Here,
Atwood captures the desperation of love while also finding new angles with which to celebrate
it. Her last stanza gives the reader a feeling of transcendence without a single use of the word
"love," which strengthens her theme. As in the previous poem, her description of the emotions
shared between two people has surpassed conventional interpretations of intimacy. The third
poem, "Postcard," is yet another example of Atwood's talent for redesigning the concept of love.
Just as we have seen before, Atwood is interested in the ways in which both words and literary
mediums convey the sense of human relationships. In this poem, she studies the words that might
go on a conventional postcard, and also how reality differs from the usual declarations of love
that come in the mail.

The first line of the poem is representative of what one might expect on the back of a postcard:
"I'm thinking of you. What else can I say?" but Atwood immediately dissects the allusion of an
ideal vacation with a perfect love waiting across the sea. She describes the surroundings as being
dirty and disappointing, and the reader gets the sense that her words may apply to the narrator's
relationship as well: "What we have are the usual/ fractured coke bottles and the smell/ of
backed-up drains, too sweet, / like a mango on the verge/ of rot, which we have also". One must
be careful not to oversimplify Atwood's images here, but it is interesting to interpret this putrid
environment as a metaphor for the disintegrating relationship between the writer and the
addressee. The "backed-up drains," for instance, and the rotting sweetness are indicative of the
poem's dark, disparaging tone. This poem delineates from the feelings of intense love in the
other two poems, but it is important to notice that Atwood has avoided, yet again, boxing the two
characters into sexual identities, thus, the reader is free to interpret the relationship in "Postcard"
according to their own experience or imagination.

What is also apparent in "Postcards" is that Atwood sidesteps the usual trappings of what we
expect love to be. "Variations on the Word Sleep" depicts a psychological or dream-like journey
which intensified the idea of connection and sacrifice, while "Variations of the Word Love' pulls
new meaning out of such connections by denying the reduction of language. "Postcard" is
certainly less optimistic about love, but again we see Atwood attempting to transcend the
ordinariness of romance. Just as magazines are often inept at capturing the essence of our
connections, so are corny vacation postcards. Instead of using the back of the postcard for forced
simplicity and reduced senses of time, Atwood writes "time comes in waves here, a sickness,
one/ day after the other rolling on; /1 move up, its called/ awake, then down into the uneasy /
nights but never / forward". Again, Atwood has a perceptive sense of movement in her poetry.
As we have seen before, she used words such as "enter," "over," and "follow," in the previous
lines, and in "Postcards" Atwood rocks her readers into queasiness with the words "rolling on,"
"up," "down into," and "never froward." The narrator's vacation has become an absurd foreign
nightmare, and the "glossy image" on the front of the postcard serves as a metaphor for the dark
realities of being disconnected from others.

In conclusion, Margaret Atwood's poetry is not what one might expect from a feminist writer.
While her novels such as The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace explore the feminine
perspective, her poetry can be characterized by its genderless conscious and its unconventional
portrayal of love. Atwood's poetic voice defies the trappings of feminism in the sense that it
embraces romantic images. Atwood shows the reader, through such poems as "Variations on the
Word Sleep" that love transcends ordinary human activity, and chases it even into the depths of
our consciousness and deepest fears. This poem captures the beauty of love by avoiding gender
trappings and by carryingthe reader through the boundaries of language. This is also true of her
poem "Variations on the Word Love," where Atwood gives us what language is incapable of and
reshapes the language of human connection. Of course, Atwood's poetry should not be
oversimplified. In the poem "Postcards" we see a revival of the "high priestess of angst" that is
predominant in her novels. "Postcards" is undoubtedly bitter: "Love comes/ in waves like the
ocean, a sickness which goes on/ & on, a hollow cave/ in the head, filling and pounding, a kicked
ear." But again, Atwood has found a descriptive language to redefine love and overstep gender
issues. The poetic voice in this poem makes the pain of absence clear to the reader, and again, we
feel the power and pain of human connections. Atwood peels off the layers of consciousnessto
reveal a multi-faceted perspective on a usually clichO subject. Love, through Atwood's poetry,
transcends our expectations of humanness and gender.

Bibliography

1. Atwood, Margaret. Waterstone's Poetry Lecture. Delivered at Hav On Wye. Wales, June
1995. 2. Brownley, Martine Watson. "The Muse as Fluffball": Margaret Atwood and the Poetry
of the Intelligent Woman, p. 34-51. University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. 3. Ellmann, Richard.
Modern Poems: A Norton Introduction, p. 797-803. W.W. Norton and Company, 1973. 4.
Klemesrud, Judy. High Priestess of Angst. New York Times, March 28, 1982 5. Oates, Joyce C.
Margaret Atwood: Poet. New York Times, May 21, 1978 6. Snell, Marilyn. Mother Jones, Jul/
Aug97, Vol22 Issue 4, p24, 4p, 2c

Word Count: 2424


Spelling

My daughter plays on the floor


with plastic letters,
red, blue & hard yellow,
learning how to spell,
spelling, 5
how to make spells.

I wonder how many women


denied themselves daughters,
closed themselves in rooms,
drew the curtains 10
so they could mainline words.

A child is not a poem,


a poem is not a child.
there is no either/or.
However. 15

I return to the story


of the woman caught in the war
& in labour, her thighs tied
together by the enemy
so she could not give birth. 20

Ancestress: the burning witch,


her mouth covered by leather
to strangle words.

A word after a word


after a word is power. 25

At the point where language falls away


from the hot bones, at the point
where the rgcls breaks open and darkness
flows out of it like blood, at
the melting point of granite 30
when the bones know
they are hollow & the word
splits & doubles & speaks
the truth & the body
itself becomes a mouth. 35

This is a metaphor.

How do you learn to spell?


Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name, 40
your first word.
Variation On The Word Sleep

I would like to watch you sleeping,


which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter 5
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent


wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons 10
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver


branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you 15
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become 20
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and as you enter 25
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air


that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary. 30

Guiding Questions:

i)

2)
Variations on the Word Love

This is a word we use to plug


holes with. It's the right size for those warm
blanks in speech, for those red heart-
shaped vacancies on the page that look nothing
like real hearts. Add lace 5
and you can sell
it. We insert it also in the one empty
space on the printed form
that comes with no instructions. There are whole
magazines with not much in them 10
but the word love, you can
rub it all over your body and you
can cook with it too. How do we know
it isn't what goes on at the cool
debaucheries of slugs under damp 15
pieces of cardboard? As for the weed-
seedlings nosing their tough snouts up
among the lettuces, they shout it.
Love! Love! sing the soldiers, raising
their glittering knives in salute. 20

Then there's the two


of us. This word
is far too short for us, it has only
four letters, too sparse
to fill those deep bare 25
vacuums between the stars
that press on us with their deafness.
It's not love we don't wish
to fall into, but that fear.
this word is not enough but it will 30
have to do. It's a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger 35
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.

Guiding Questions:
1)

2)
Postcards

I'm thinking about you. What else can I say?


The palm trees on the reverse
are a delusion; so is the pink sand.
What we have are the usual
fractured coke bottles and the smell 5
of backed-up drains, too sweet,
like a mango on the verge
of rot, which we have also.
The air clear sweat, mosquitoes
& their tracks; birds & elusive. 10

Time comes in waves here, a sickness, one


day after the other rolling on;
I move up, it's called
awake, then down into the uneasy
nights but never 15
forward. The roosters crow
for hours before dawn, and a prodded
child howls & howls
on the pocked road to school.
In the hold with the baggage 20
there are two prisoners,
their heads shaved by bayonets, & ten crates
of queasy chicks. Each spring
there's race of cripples, from the store
to the church. This is the sort of junk 25
I carry with me; and a clipping
about democracy from the local paper.

Outside the window


they're building the damn hotel,
nail by nail, someone's 30
crumbling dream. A universe that includes you
can't be all bad, but
does it? At this distance
you're a mirage, a glossy image
fixed in the posture 35
of the last time I saw you.
Turn you over, there's the place
for the address. Wish you were
here. Love comes
in waves like the ocean, a sickness which goes on 40
& on, a hollow cave
in the head, filling & pounding, a kicked ear.
A Sad Child

You're sad because you're sad.


It's psychic. It's the age. It's chemical.
Go see a shrink or take a pill,
or hug your sadness like an eyeless doll
you need to sleep. 5

Well, all children are sad


but some get over it.
Count your blessings. Better than that,
buy a hat. Buy a coat or pet.
Take up dancing to forget. 10

Forget what?
Your sadness, your shadow,
whatever it was that was done to you
the day of the lawn party
when you came inside flushed with the sun, 15
your mouth sulky with sugar,
in your new dress with the ribbon
and the ice-cream smear,
and said to yourself in the bathroom,
I am not the favorite child. 20

My darling, when it comes


right down to it
and the light fails and the fog rolls in
and you're trapped in your overturned body
under a blanket or burning car, 25

and the red flame is seeping out of you


and igniting the tarmac beside you head
or else the floor, or else the pillow,
none of us is;
or else we all are. 30

Guiding Questions:
D

2)
A Women's Issue

The woman in the spiked device


that locks around the waist and between
the legs, with holes in it like a tea strainer
is Exhibit A.

The woman in black with a net window 5


to see through and a four-inch
wooden peg jammed up
between her legs so she can't be raped
is Exhibit B.

Exhibit C is the young girl 10


dragged into the bush by the midwives
and made to sing while they scrape the flesh
from between her legs, then tie her thighs
till she scabs over and is called healed.
Now she can be married. 15
For each childbirth they'll cut her
open, then sew her up.
Men like tight women.
The ones that die are carefully buried.

The next exhibit lies flat on her back 20


while eighty men a night
move through her, then an hour.
She looks at the ceiling, listens
to the door open and close.
A bell keeps ringing. 25
Nobody knows how she got here.

You'll notice that what they have in common


is between the legs. Is this
why wars are fought?
Enemy territory, no man's 30
land, to be entered furtively,
fenced, owned but never surely,
scene of these desperate forays
at midnight, captures
and sticky murders, doctors' rubber gloves 35
greasy with blood, flesh made inert, the surge
of your own uneasy power.

This is no museum.
Who invented the word love?

Guiding Questions:
D
2)
Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing

The world is full of women


who'd tell me I should be ashamed of myself
if they had the chance. Quit dancing.
Get some self-respect
and a day job. 5
Right. And minimum wage,
and varicose veins, just standing
in one place for eight hours
behind a glass counter
bundled up to the neck, instead of 10
naked as a meat sandwich.
Selling gloves, or something.
Instead of what I do sell.
You have to have talent
to peddle a thing so nebulous 15
and without material form.
Exploited, they'd say. Yes, any way
you cut it, but I've a choice
of how, and I'll take the money.

I do give value. 20
Like preachers, I sell vision,
life perfume ads, desire
or its facsimile. Like jokes
or war, it's all in the timing.
I sell men back their worst suspicions: 25
that everything's for sale,
and piecemeal. They gaze at me and see
a chain-saw murder just before it happens,
when thigh, ass, inkblot, crevice, tit, and nipple
are still connected. 30
Such hatred leaps in them,
my beery worshippers! That, or a bleary
hopeless love. Seeing the rows of heads
and upturned eyes, imploring
but ready to snap at my ankles, 35
I understand floods and earthquakes, and the urge
to step on ants. I keep the beat,
and dance for them because
they can't. The music smells like foxes,
crisp as heated metal 40
searing the nostrils
or humid as August, hazy and languorous
as a looted city the day after,
when all the rape's been done
already, and the killing, 45
and the survivors wander around
looking for garbage
to eat, and there's only a bleak exhaustion.

Speaking of which, it's the smiling


tires me out the most. 50
This, and the pretence
that I can't hear them.
And I can't, because I'm after all
a foreigner to them.
The speech here is all warty gutturals, 55
obvious as a slab of ham,
but I come from the province of gods
where meanings are lilting and oblique.
I don't let on to everyone,
but lean close, and I'll whisper: 60
My mother was raped by a holy swan.
You believe that? You can take me out to dinner.
That's what we tell all the husbands.
There sure are a lot of dangerous birds around.

Not that everyone here 65


but you would understand.
The rest of them would like to watch me
and feel nothing. Reduce me to components
as in a clock factory or abattoir.
Crush out the mystery. 70
Wall me up alive
in my own body.
They'd like to see through me,
but nothing is more opaque
than absolute transparency. 75
Look - my feet don't hit the marble!
Like breath or a balloon, I'm rising,
I hover six inches in the air
in my blazing swan-egg of light.
You think I'm not a goddess? 80
Try me.
This is my torch song.
Touch me and you'll burn.
Oh

It's Christmas, and the green wreaths,


festive and prickly, with their bright red
holly berries, dot the graves,

the shocked mouths grief has made


and keeps on making: 5
round silent Ohs,
leafy and still alive
that hurt when you touch them.

Look, they are everywhere: Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh.


What else can be said? 10

Strange how we decorate pain.


These ribbons, for instance,
and the small hard teardrops of blood.
Who are they for?
Do we think the dead care? 15

It's so cold today


even the birds, those flurries
of light and fever,
freeze in the air.

The bare trees crack overhead 20


as we place our flowers
already stiff with ice.

In the spring the flowers will melt,


also the berries,
and something will come to eat them. 25
We will go around
in these circles for a time,
winter summer winter,
and, after more time, not.

This is a good thought. 30

Guiding Questions:
1)

2)
They Eat Out

In restaurants we argue
over which of us will pay for your funeral

thought the real question is


whether or not I will make you immortal.

At the moment only I 5


can do it and so

I raise the magic fork


over the plate of beef fried rice

and plunge it into your heart.


There is a faint pop, a sizzle 10

and through your own split head


you rise up glowing;

the ceiling opens


a voice sings Love Is A Many

Splendoured Thing 15
you hang suspended above the city

in blue tights and a red cape,


your eyes flashing in unison.

The other diners regard you 20


some with awe, some only with boredom:

they cannot decide if you are a new weapon


or only a new advertisement.

As for me, I continue eating;


I liked you better the way you were, 25
but you were always ambitious.

After the agony in the guest


bedroom, you lying by the
overturned bed
your face uplifted, neck propped 30
against the windowsill, my arm
under you, cold moon
shining down through the window
wine mist rising
around you, an almost- 35
visible halo

You say, Do you


love me, do you love me

I answeryou: 40
I stretch your arms out
one to either side,
your head slumps forward.

Later I take you home


in a taxi, and you 45
are sick in the bathtub

Guiding Questions:
1)
2)
February

Winter. Time to eat fat


and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It's his 5
way of telling whether or not I'm dead.
If I'm not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He'll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas, 10
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It's all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here 15
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we'd do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it's love that does us in. Over and over
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine 20
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair, 25
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole. 30
Off my face! You're the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Guiding Questions:
1)

2)
Men at Sea

You can come to the end of talking, about women,


talking. In restaurants, cafes, kitchens, less fre
quently in bars or pubs, about relatives, relations,
relationships, illnesses, jobs, children, men; about
nuance, hunch, intimation, intuition, shadow; about 5
themselves and each other; about what he said to her
and she said to her and she said back; about what
they feel.
Something ore definite, more outward then,
some action, to drain the inner swamp, sweep the 10
inner fluff out from under the inner bed, harden the
edges. Men at sea, for instance. Not on a submarine,
too claustrophobic and smelly, but something more
bracing, a tang of salt, cold water, all over you cal
loused body, cuts and bruises, hurricanes, bravery 15
and above all no women. Women are replaced by
water, by wind, by the ocean, shifting and treacher
ous; a man has to know what to do, to navigate, to
sail, to bail, so reach for the How-To book, and out
here it's what he said to him, or didn't say, a narrow- 20
ing of the eyes, sizing the bastard up before the
pounce, the knife to the gut, and here comes a wave,
hang on to the shrouds, all teeth grit, all muscles
bulge together. Or sneaking along the gangway, the
passageway, the right of way, the Milky Way, in the 25
dark, your eyes shining like digital wrist-watches,
and the bushes, barrels, scuppers, ditches, filthy with
enemies, and you on the prowl for adrenalin and
loot. Corpses of your own making deliquesce behind
you as you reach the cave, abandoned city, safe, slid- 30
ing panel, hole in the ground, and rich beyond your
wildest dreams!
What now? Spend it on some woman, in a restau
rant. And there I am, back again at the eternal table,
which exists so she can put her elbows on it, over a 35
glass of wine, while he says. What does he say? He
says the story of how he got here, to her. She says: But
what did you feel?
And his eyes roll wildly, quick as a wink he tries to
think of something else, a cactus, a porpoise, never 40
give yourself away, while the seductive waves swell
the carpet beneath the feet and the wind freshens
among the tablecloths. They're all around her, she
can see it now, one per woman per table. Men, at sea.
"The Female Body" pt. 5

The Female Body has many uses. It's been used as a


door-knocker, a bottle-opener, as a clock with a tick
ing belly, as something to hold up lampshades, as a
nutcracker, just squeeze the brass legs together and
out comes your nut. It bears torches, lifts victorious 5
wreaths, grows copper wings and raises aloft a ring
of neon stars; whole buildings rest on its marble
heads.

It sells cars, beer, shaving lotion, cigarettes, hard


liquor; it sells diet plans and diamonds, and desire 10
in tiny crystal bottles. Is this the face that launched
a thousand products? You bet it is, but don't get
any funny big ideas, honey, that smile is a dime a
dozen.

It does not merely sell, it is sold. Money flows into 15


this country, flies in, practically
crawls in, suitful after suitful, lured by all those hair
less pre-teen legs. Listen, you want to reduce the
national debt, don't you? Aren't you patriotic? That's
the spirit. That's my girl. 20

She's a natural resource, a renewable one luckily,


because those things wear out so quickly. They don't
make 'em like they used to. Shoddy goods.

Guiding Questions:
1)
2)
Cell

Now look objectively. You have to


admit the cancer cell is beautiful.
If it were a flower, you'd say, How pretty,
with its mauve centre and pink petals

or if a cover for a pulpy thirties 5


sci-fi magazine, How striking;
as an alien, a success,
all purple eye and jelly tentacles
and spines, or are they gills,
creeping around on granular Martian 10
dirt red as the inside of the body,

while its tender walls


expand and burst, its spores
scatter elsewhere, take root, like money,
drifting like a fiction or 15
miasma in and out of people's
brains, digging themselves
industriously in. The lab technician

says, It has forgotten


how to die. But why remember? All it wants is more 20
amnesia. More life, and more abundantly. To take
more. To eat more. To replicate itself. To keep on
doing those things forever. Such desires
are not unknown. Look in the mirror.

Guiding Questions:
1)

2)
Siren Song

This is the one song everyone


would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men


to leap overboard in squadrons 5
even though they see the beached skulls

the song nobody knows


because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can't remember.

Shall I tell you the secret 10


and if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?

I don't enjoy it here


squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical 15

with these two feathery maniacs,


I don't enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,


to you, only to you. 20
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!


Only you, only you can,
you are unique

at last. Alas 25
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

Guiding Questions:

2)